A sudden change of heart by Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari to convene the Punjab Assembly session through an order on a plain paper further complicated matters for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partner, the PML-Q, who are struggling to get their combined nominee, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, installed as chief minister of the province.
Going against his party line, Mazari had late on Tuesday night superseded his earlier order to postpone the assembly session till April 16, and re-summoned the PA on Wednesday. The fresh order went viral and the opposition braced itself for the much-awaited election of the Punjab chief minister. However, minutes later, the Punjab Assembly secretariat termed the deputy speaker’s order ‘fake’ for not having been issued by the secretariat, and claimed the session would be called on the 16th. However, the PML-N-led opposition doubted the chief minister’s election would be held even on that day. They said similar steps were being taken by the PTI in Punjab the way interim premier Imran Khan had ‘trampled’ the Constitution at the Centre.
With the opposition announcing to converge on the PA on Wednesday to ensure the session was held, the provincial government sprung into action and cordoned off the assembly building with barbed wires, and deployed heavy police and Rangers contingents. Water cannons and emergency rescue service were put on high alert in case of an imminent clash between the government and opposition workers.
However, following Mazari’s Tuesday night order, opposition lawmakers reached the assembly the next day, but were told the directive had no legal value and that they should return on April 16. The lawmakers had a heated argument with police personnel, who had blocked the entrance to the assembly. On this, the lawmakers held a sit-in outside the assembly building and chanted slogans against interim Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A large number of ruling coalition workers had also reached the assembly during the day and staged a protest against Deputy Speaker Mazari and the opposition’s ‘detention’ of its MPAs in a local hotel. They chanted slogans of “lota” (turncoats).
Later in the evening, the joint opposition held a mock Punjab Assembly session at another hotel and elected PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz as the new chief minister.
Meanwhile, in a bizarre turn of events, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi used his authority as the Punjab Assembly speaker and ordered “withdrawal of powers delegated to the deputy speaker in terms of Rule 25 of the Rules ibid with immediate effect”. The assembly secretariat released the order through a formal notification.
In another stunning development that followed shortly after, the PML-Q and PTI provincial lawmakers submitted a no-confidence motion against their own Deputy Speaker Mazari to snatch his powers to preside over a session and demanded his removal.
A party insider said that since Mazari had been running the House instead of Elahi, the PML-N leadership had been negotiating with him for a couple of weeks to ensure a smooth election of the CM.
“Finally, Mazari accepted a ‘good offer’ from the PML-N (party ticket for himself and an uncle) and agreed to ditch his party at this crucial juncture. But the PTI-PML-Q coalition had something else in store for him (withdrawal of powers as deputy speaker) to counter his ‘favour’ to the opposition,” he claimed.
In a tit-for-tat move, the opposition PML-N and PPP prepared a no-confidence motion against Speaker Elahi, but could not submit it as the assembly was closed. The members stated in the motion that Elahi had lost confidence of the majority MPs in the assembly and was running the assembly affairs in contravention of the Constitution.
PML-N parliamentary party chief whip Khalil Tahir Sandhu said two assembly officials approached the protesting lawmakers and asked them to hand over the motion. “We insisted that the assembly secretary come out and receive it, but he did not turn up,” he said.
A Punjab Assembly spokesperson said that the assembly officers had gone up to the opposition members at the assembly’s main gate to receive the motion, but they refused to hand it over saying they wanted to enter the premises and submit the motion themselves. They were told the assembly secretariat was closed for the day and that they could not be allowed entry, the spokesperson added.
When told that Mazari was chairing an assembly session at a local hotel, the spokesperson said the deputy speaker had lost the powers to do so after the no-confidence motion against him was submitted. “Him chairing any session will be tantamount to a violation of the law and constitution,” he maintained.
Mazari, however, told the media that a vacuum had been created in the province since Usman Buzdar had resigned as the chief minister. “Since the province’s affairs are not being run smoothly, it is high time a CM is elected,” he added.
Welcoming the no-confidence motion against him, the deputy speaker said he was not afraid and will fight the move. “The government is trying to keep me away from presiding over the chief minister’s election process in the Punjab Assembly,” he remarked, alleging that some forces wanted to derail the legal and constitutional process to create chaos leading to instability in the country.
On the other hand, former provincial minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan claimed that Mazari had met CM-candidate Hamza Shehbaz a few days ago after which he stopped cooperating with the government in terms of taking action against the dissident PTI members under Article 63A of the Constitution.
He claimed that Mazari had issued his own order to call the session on Wednesday on a plain paper allegedly on the instructions of Hamza.
CHANGING LOYALTIES: In the rapidly changing political events in the country and change of loyalties, many of the ruling PTI’s senior members had parted ways with the party over allegations of corruption and nepotism and neglect of die-hard workers.
While the Jahangir Tareen group had created its own identity as a dissident group some two years ago and eventually decided to sit with the opposition, former governor Chaudhry Sarwar and former senior minister Abdul Aleem Khan launched separate tirades against the prime minister. Provincial minister Asad Khokhar and Dost Mazari also parted ways with the government.
Sources say Tareen will return to Pakistan on April 12 and begin his political stint with the PML-N after meeting the party leadership in the country.